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shortmagnum
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 848 Wisconsin
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2004-03-03          78585


After three years of burning expensive propane in the winter and listening to the air conditioning pump straining in the 100 degree summer heat weve decided to go geothermal. The plan is to put in the type of heat pump that circulates water through coils buried in the ground (closed system). My BIL has had an open system (pumping ground water from their well) going for over 15 years and Im tired of hearing about his cheap heat.

My back yard has not been seeded yet so this summer would be a good time to bury the heat exchange piping. Of course I might have to fire up the Kubota and get the backhoe working to dig the trenches. I have not yet talked to any contractors so I dont have any prices but I should be able to save some money by doing the digging and backfilling.

Has anyone out there put one of these systems in? I would like to hear any comments you might have on the subject. We will probably be in this house for 10 more years so it should pay for itself especially with the expected high future price of gas.
Dave


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Murf
Join Date: Dec 1999
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2004-03-03          78590


I made a sort of a 'geothermal' system for my shop at home.

Basically it is a radiator from a Ford diesel pickup mounted in the plenum of an old Newmac wood/oil furnace I have in the shop. It is fed with water from a dug well which also supplies the washroom, the water comes up, through the rad and back into the well. In my case the permanent water table is only about 8' below grade so it is an endless supply.

I only use it in the summer as a cooling system, I drain it every fall, if I wanted to use it as heat I would need to make an exchanger and run some sort of freeze-protected fluid such as anti-freeze, but I am concerned about a leak which would be straight into the ground water. It lowers the temp by 10-15 deg. but more importantly it sucks an incredible amount of moisture out of the air.

I plan on replacing the oil furnace with a geothermal eventually, but in the interim I burn so much free firewood that the heat bill is pretty small anyways.

Best of luck. ....

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2004-03-03          78593


Murf, your system sounds interesting. You must have a way to drain the condensation off to the outside.

For a while I was thinking about one of those outside wood boilers that have been popular. I call them doghouses. But I think by the time I put in the piping, the pumps and the heat exchanger in my present furnace the cost would be $4-5K anyway. Then I would still have the "cost" of cutting and/or buying the wood to burn. If I had some nice hardwood on my property (I mostly have popple and pine) the wood option would be more appealing. And to be honest, winter woodcutting was necessary and I did it from the time I was old enough to remember. The farm house didn't have oil heat till the late seventies so I burned out early on the "fun" of woodcutting.
Dave ....

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kwschumm
Join Date: Feb 2003
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2004-03-03          78598


I know some people have had good luck with Geothermal, and it sounds good in theory, but we have had so many problems with our WaterFurnace system that I wouldn't recommend them to anybody. Not only has it been unreliable, and service and parts hard to get, but our energy costs are double what they projected making the payback period far exceed the expected life of the unit. ....

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2004-03-03          78599


Ken, Is this the company you worked with? I think they have a dealer near me. Even though your experience was not positive, this is exactly the feedback I'm looking for.
Dave ....


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Murf
Join Date: Dec 1999
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2004-03-03          78601


Dave, I collect the condensate in a 55 gal. plastic drum, the rad is high enough to gravity drain.

I have a steady stream of people who want it, everything from topping up batteries and radiators to one neighbour who is a homeopathic healer and won't even let her dog drink well water, instead she gives it make 'distilled water', I don't tell her about her dog drinking from puddles in my yard when it comes to play with my pooch, LOL.

In the course of clearing for golf courses we generate a LOT of hardwood logs, I have a lifetime supply of firewood.

Ken, I have heard other people complaining about waterFurnace also, there are a few hybrid systems made locally here that have excellent reputations.

Best of luck. ....

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kwschumm
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2004-03-03          78602


Dave, yes I worked with WaterFurnace. The dealer who originally installed ours dropped them due to chronic problems and the poor warranty reimbursement they got from the factory. ....

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DennisCTB
Join Date: Nov 1998
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2004-03-03          78603


When I built my house I was very excited about geothermal, so I got a geothermal contractor out for an estimate. The system they recommended was the well based system. I asked the contractor if he had geothermal to see if he ate his own product, the answer was Oil. His bid was significantly more costly then fuel based systems.

My wife and I, undaunted by his own lack of personal use and the higher cost decided to do a survey.

We knew of a new (3 years old) 15 house subdivsion of comparable homes in our town that all had geothermal systems. It is important to be getting experience where you live not where I live because of climate, Elec rates, incentives ...etc

We went there and did a house to house survey. We got to speak to about 6 homeowners. The results were:

1) uses lots of electricity to make up for the temp shortfall, huge bills, more expensive than propane or oil.

2) People did not feel warm like with other heats.

3) If Electric goes out it can take forever for the house to get warm when it comes back on. Then takes alot of elec.

4) cannot drop thermostat down at night because it won't heat up in time in the morning. I like the house cold at night to about 61 so I did not like this fact.

5) Cannot shut down when away must be constant all the time in summer and winter.

I also found out that a well based system needs 15 gpm source and a return well to discharge. I only have 7.5 gpm in my water well. It also turns out that my water is acid which trashes the well pipes in 6 yesars, probably way less if used for heating and cooling. Your closed system should avoid these issues

Very happy I did not go that route.

Dennis


....

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kwschumm
Join Date: Feb 2003
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2004-03-03          78613


In fairness, our fuel bills are a fair bit lower than the neighbors who heat with LP and oil, and our house is a good bit larger. But based on the extra money paid up-front the payback based on energy savings will be around 20 years and there's no way this unit will last that long. And it's not a comfortable heat. Radiant floor heating is the way to go for comfort. Dennis' other criticisms are right on target. The recovery rate is awful. Following a one-week power outage last winter when our house temperature fell into the 50's it took four days to get back to 70. ....

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Peters
Join Date: Feb 2002
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2004-03-03          78617


I put a nordic system into my new house a few years ago. We run less than 120 summer and winter witb an electric hot water tank (4000 sq ft.).
Before I decided on the system I also research it with customers and other people with geothermal. From what I determined it depended as much on the installer as the system. The most vocal complains were from people that did not have the system installed correctly.
I did not get the electric back up, but supplimented with a pellet stove.
I normally drop the temperature back at night although not as cold as dennis.
I was away for most of January and reduce the temperature to 55 and then heated it up when I returned.
If the loops are sized right there should be no drop in temperature when the system is running.
I believe the Canadian systems are designed more for the extremes and generally function better. The price for me was better with the exchange.
Another good unit is the Polar Bear. ....


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DennisCTB
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2004-03-03          78619


Another followup to one of my previous points:

Peters is happy and is in Alabama

I am in western NJ at 1100 feet elevation in NW NJ.

I see you are in Wisconsin, I think you have me beat on cold. I think you should check with some users in your state to see how they are making out.
....

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2004-03-03          78622


Until now I've only had my sister and BIL's system for comparison. I don't think they have had any trouble with theirs. They have had to pull their deepwell pump twice in the time they've had theirs going but other than that I don't think there has been any problem with the unit. They actually live an hour north of me so they could be colder.
Dave ....

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kwschumm
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2004-03-03          78624


I'm at 1100 feet in Oregon so I suspect it is a little colder here than at Peter's house in Alabama. He is right about the installation being critical, but how can you be sure they will do a good job? WaterFurnance sure hasn't backed me up with our problems. I checked references, BBB reports, etc before signing and all feedback was good. Anyway, as far as I know none of our problems are due to installation. Duct pressure tests and blower door tests prove the ductwork and the house to be very tight. The failures on the unit have been electrical and factory defects (TXV Valve). Everybody I've had out has concluded the unit may be marginally undersized for the house, but it was sized by WaterFurnace who had access to our blueprints and they sure aren't interested in standing behind their work. ....

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Peters
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2004-03-03          78654


As stated it is critical that you know what the mean ground temperature is in the are. If you have a deep well and can measure the temperature of the water it helps.
I am sure the type of soil helps. I have fine clay that is nearly 40% iron oxide. I can not think of a better heat sink except maybe water.
If you can place the pipe in a deep pond it would be best. Size the unit so you can heat the whole house and make provision so be able to add more pipe in the ground if you are loosing temperature of ground water.
I would get a IR gun so you can measure the temperatures of the incomming and exiting pipes.
I would suggest getting a natural gas contractor to install the pipe. You do not need to cut trenches as large as the bucket. A trencher will work as well.
I do not recommend crossing lines. ....

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dkheckmanl
Join Date: Dec 2003
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2004-03-04          78718




We put in a geothermal system when we built our new house here in SE Idaho{completed Nov 15 04}. Our system is a Hydro Heat which I think is built by Lennox. Anyway the Lennox dealer installed it. We went with it because N.G. was not available in our area other wise we would have gone with NG for heat. So far we have been happy with the hydro heat. We have a 2640 sq ft single level house. We keep the temp at 72 during the day and 65 at night. It does a little while to heat up in the morning but not long {probably 30 min). We do have a propane fire place which we some times burn in the evening for a couple of hours. Our monthly electric and heat bill for December and January averaged about $155. Our propane bill for the fireplace averaged about $40./month. I am quite happy to get by for just under $200./month for both electric and propane. I did hear our neighbors put in a geothermal system. It was not the same brand as ours but I can not remember the name. I guess it took them some time before they got the bugs out.

So far I have no regrets.
Good luck with what ever system you go with.
PS: Average low temp here in SE ID for Dec and Jan was around 18-22 degees degrees and the average high was about 37-39 degrees. ....

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JParker
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 152 Richmond, VA
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2004-03-04          78721


I'm surprized Ken wasn't taking bets on how long before I put my $0.02 in on this one.

I have designed a decent number of geothermal systems, but will admit to rather limited experience with horizontal installations. What I have seen, read in the trade, and learned from trying to help Ken strongly suggests sticking with known, independently tested ground exchanger designs.

Ken's contractor had a home brewed concept with no 3rd party test data to check it against. I think Ken got short changed, but can't prove it. It also seems like the unit may be a little small for the house and climate. Recovery time is a function of unit size vs. load.

Add some hardware issues with what was a new technology at the time (2 speed compressors) and I don't blame him for being bitter. I really would have hoped Waterfurnace would have stepped up to the plate on the equipment side, but apparently they haven't.

It's a lot like the discussions we keep coming back to here about tractors and dealers. Usually any of the name brand machines are fine to own, but having a good dealer and in this case a good installer very important.

If you have the room to go horizontal, be sure to spread it out, get it all in as deep as possible and limit the number pipes in one trench. The whole concept is transferring heat to and from the earth, so keep the pipes away from each other. If you can do your own trenching, I wouldn't even consider any more than a 2 pipes / trench design. Spread the trenches at least 25 feet apart if you need multiple trenches, and keep everything at least 4 feet down. That's how to have an efficient system.

In extreme climates, either very heating dominant or very cooling dominant, the system efficiency will go down compared to a nicely balanced load. A correctly done ground exchanger design should take that into account.

If you have cheap fuel available (oil, gas, propane) don't even consider geothermal. But if you are stuck with electric, and want to invest some money now to save it later, it may be worth looking at.

I consider ground water too precious a resource in most areas to think about an open system, but they have a lot of advantages in first cost and constant temperature if you have the water supply. Looking at run time the well pump life may be normal. Think of how much the pump run time changes if you use a couple of gpm / ton the whole time the unit is running.

Geothermal isn't a cure all technology. But it can be a good technology when correctly applied. Get an IGSHPA certified designer and installer and be sure they stick to a proven design. Also, be sure they don't undersize the equipment. An undersized AC unit can't catch up in a heat wave either.

More than enough said.

- J Parker ....

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2004-03-04          78746


Thanks for all the responses. I would guess that for winter heat, the depth of the exchange pipes in a closed system would be critical. If they're buried four feet down and the frost line is also four feet then you wouldn't get much, if any, exchange. The heat pump would run and run with little efficiency. I'm starting to wonder if even five feet deep is enought to get the ground temp up to the 50 degree range in mid winter. Because they take water from deep down could be why the open systems seem to perform better. I wouldn't consider an open system either.
Dave ....

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JParker
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2004-03-05          78965


Check into local drilling prices for a vertical closed loop system. That's all we do commercially. You're right, I don't think in areas with a deep frost line that you can get a horizontal down deep enough to really be worthwhile unless you put in a lot of pipe.

Still it's more efficient to pull heat out of 35 degree water than 5 degree air.

- JP ....

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HuckMeat
Join Date: Jan 2004
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2004-03-06          78969


After lots of research, I've elected to install geothermal. I'm still breaking ground, but have learned a lot. There are a lot of folks on this board with good and bad experience, and they can help you learn a lot. Listen to these guys, because their experiences will help you. I know they helped me be sure to ask the right questions. A bad design/install will definitly cause problems.

I think the installer is the key - 10x more so than your tractor dealer being important. If you want to wing it, you can buy a geothermal system on ebay. If you really want it done right, I think you need a geothermal guy who can properly design your system and guarantee to stand by it. Get it in writing, so you have recourse if the system does not perform as promised. The guy I selected will back his models and designs, predecting my energy usage for the next 2 years. Before I signed, he gave me all the detail on his design for my house, loop temperature assumptions, safety (overage factors) etc. I am installing geothermal sourced radiant that also power AC.

I'll let everyone know how it works in 6 months. But anyway, even in my research and interviews here, I found a vast difference in the quality of geothermal folks. Some are former HVAC guys with a backhoe, and some really know what they are doing. If you soil and loop area aren't just right, you probably ought to have the expensive vertical wells. A good geo guy can tell you this, and make a site evaluation. If he hasn't looked at the soil before selling you a system, you're with the wrong guy.

Good luck. I'm looking forward to cheap bills and good heat, hopefully I've made a good decision.

During my research, I visited a house under construction to view an identical system. a 6 ton unit was heating a 8500 sf house with the front door open(construction workers in/out), comfortably, in 20 degree weather. Had been doing so the entire winter. Their loop field was 6 170' deep bores grouted with a thermally enhanced grout. ....

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kwschumm
Join Date: Feb 2003
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2004-03-06          78993


HuckMeat, it certainly sounds like you've done your homework and I certainly hope your system works to your expectations, but there are no guarantees.

I have energy predictions in writing, too. My loop installer has 20 years of experience and was recommended by the manufacturer too. The installer, dealer, and manufacturer all had good references and I visited owners who were happy, including some of my relatives who live next to the Indiana WaterFurnace factory. None of it helped though, and the only recourse I have now is to sue - which would cost me more than just trashing the system. ....

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HuckMeat
Join Date: Jan 2004
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2004-03-06          79087


Ken,

You definitly got a drag of a system. Waterfurnace blew it too.

After hearing about everyone who had bad problems, I was hesitent until I saw many good, identical systems running, in my area. (less than 2 mile radius). We may all be getting hosed, but I went to see identical systems to the one I selected before I did so, running in the same area. My other recouse is that being radiant based for the heat, if it's really screwed up, I just put in a boiler and slave to the propane gods.

I guess I've done my "homework", and ultimatly, I'll still be in the hands of my dealer/installer.

My contract ties the last 20% of their payment to the successful performance of their system for a 9 month period. I figure it's at least a little incentive for them to make sure the system runs right and I'm going to run it hard then, cooking the moisture out of my concrete slabs. :)

However, I owe my backround knowledge and healthy does of skepticism to John and Ken. Thanks for sharing your experiences guys, because it helps all of us be better consumers. When I interviewed my HVAC guys, I came loaded for Bear, and one contractor really stood out over the others when I started lobbing the tough questions.

Thanks again,
John

....

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kwschumm
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2004-03-07          79107


You could use the geothermal for radiant floor as well. Use a geothermal desuperheater to heat the water in a hot water tank with a propane burner, and feed the radiant floor system from there. The propane can be used to bring the water up to temp if it's a little cool and as an auxiliary heat source during power outages. I'm looking at doing something similar when I add radiant floor heat to our main floor. The intention is to use cool well water to help cool the house in the summer, too, using heat exchangers of course to protect the potable supply. ....

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toolate
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2017-04-25          196589


Wondering if anyone from this thread being an old one could share their long term joys and or disappointments with their alternative energy experience? Even with the lower oil prices it still adds up to huge chunk of change. ....

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Murf
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2017-04-25          196592


I installed a geothermal system in the house some 10'ish years ago to replace an aging forced air oil system. In my case I'm located in a broad river valley and the water table is between 36" - 40" below grade so wells were shallow and cheap.

Up until the spike in electricity rates beginning a couple of years ago it was a screaming good deal. Now it's probably lost about half of it's advantage, but that still makes it very cost-effective.

I wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again and in fact am planning a hybrid of forced air and in-floor radiant geothermal and wood-burning system in the new house I'm hoping to start on this summer.


Best of luck. ....

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jobone
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2017-04-26          196599


A new house was built down close to the river and he has what looks like an in ground pump station with plastic lids like you see on a dumpster for access, he has four of them spaced over a distance of 150 feet each one is about 5 foot by 5 foot.

I originally thought it was for an enclosed loop system, but after reading this he must be pumping the river water? Never thought of that until reading this thread ! ....

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bosco2
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2020-05-14          199154


The current oil price plunge will probably have limited lasting power but could last 2 years. I paid $1.25 a gallon last week. That is the lowest in at least 15 years.

Until that purchase I was getting curious about what better ways to heat my house now that furnace is over 25 years old ?

Any worthwhile options in 25 years? ....

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kthompson
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2020-05-15          199156


I live near the coast of South Carolina, warmer temp that most who posted in this thread. Here cooling is the main concern. However I talked with a friend who installed both our systems on this, hold on for my dog's house. He thought my idea was great. Will be a true do it yourself closed system. Will verify some details with him again before the install but think I need horizonal lines it was either 4 or 5 feet deep to have a steady 50 something temp year round. It being a "dog" house only want to keep it at 45 or so for the winter and less than our summer heat for mid 90's to mid 100's we can have. So a steady 50 degree range should handle that.

We decided on a copper tubing made radiant coil for the floor with a cover over it that would let the temp move easy and protect the dog and pipe from direct contact. Most likely 1/2 plywood with insulation maybe below the coil. House is insulated with 2 inch thick foam on sides and ceiling.

He is a believer in the systems and says here horizonal is the way to go or as has been noted a pond of sufficient depth.

I have wondered with our heat pump why could not installed a water circulation system and using a radiator placed on top of the compressor unit why that would not save as the unit should be getting cooler air in the summer and warmer in the winter than the air temp. Of course this would only work if the fan is pulling air in the top and out the sides.

My sister and BIL in the hill country of Texas has a closed loop I am sure vertical bore and they are very pleased with it. Their temp is higher than ours and winter is often colder. Low humidity does that, the wide temp swings. He is an engineer by schooling but not work experience. He will research such to death as the saying goes or he seems to.

....

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